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Friday, September 21, 2007

Reflections on a successful city centre rejuvenation

I'm back from a week's holiday in Devon (my ancestral home) where I did various sightseeing trips with my mum. We went to some of our favourite haunts, among them Buckfast Abbey and Roadford Lake, on the A30 between Launceston and Okehampton. More of that in a moment.

I also went into Plymouth city centre for the first time in about three years. What a transformation!

I was brought up in Plymouth, trained there as a journalist and worked as a reporter for BBC Radio Devon when it opened, so I was fascinated to see how the city centre has changed. Drake Circus, a 60s shopping centre, had become a very ugly and rundown part of the town, and I feared that lack of investment, following the cruel scything of Devonport Dockyard, was going to consign Plymouth, once an elegant city, to a deteriorating backwater of charity and pound shops.

The new Drake Circus mall puts paid to these fears. Architecturally it is very bold and brave. I am impressed that Plymouth was confident enough to go for something so distinctive and memorable, rather than the apologetic architecture you usually see in malls.

As you approach the bombed ruins of Charles Church, a permanent memorial to the war where Plymouth suffered terrible devastation, you see gold panels flanking the church and showcasing it in a new way. And then the mall continues to surprise, with chunky glass and granite decoration along the side walls. Meanwhile the newly built Plymouth University rises up beyond the mall and sits in an area which used to look horribly shabby but now looks proud and modern. Bravo Plymouth! All that needs to happen now is some investment at the bottom end of town - Colin Campbell Court - which is looking very rundown and apparently suffers because visitors only go to the better part.

Back to the solitary beauty of Roadford lake. Roadford is actually a reservoir but it was created very sympathetically and is a peaceful haven and magnet for wildlife and birds. The photo shows the sun glinting on the lake with the tea room and visitor centre in the top right. The conference/visitor centre is fairly new but was added very inobtrusively, and means that the tea room is now open for longer in the year, which is excellent.

Start your trip with a light lunch in the tea room, where you'll find an excellent selection of delicious home cooked food. You may be lucky enough to be served by Shirley Maynard, who's worked there since it opened in 1990. She always remembers us. My dad and I used to love visiting the beautiful reservoirs of Devon and Cornwall. Roadford was a particular favourite, though I'm surprised it ever got built, such was the force of opposition from the "nimbys" and protestors. I hope they have eaten their words over the years, having seen how South West Water more than fulfilled its commitment to create a lake of beauty.

After lunch, set off on one of the walks. Some are marked suitable for wheelchairs; there are long walks and short walks. We walked to the bird hide, where we have yet to actually see a bird, but it makes a nice detour from the path. Unfortunately there's no longer a visitor book in the bird hide. We used to enjoy reading the various comments about what people had seen, including galloping herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain.

1 comment:

Cath said...

Great blog you have a wonderfull way with words.

In answer to your question on my blog about stash, there are no shops in the north of the country to buy papercraft goods other than mine. There are a few now in the south with another one opening this week.

Love Marc Almond always did.